Thirteenth Sign: Ophiuchus

The Thirteenth Sign: Ophiuchus, by Robin Armstrong

By the early Arabs, this constellation was called the shepherd. His flock would later become known as Hercules club. The divisions of the constellations and their names changed over the course of history between languages and cultures.

Ophiuchus is a naked man with a large snake between his legs with his left hand holding the front half of the snake and his right hand holding the back half. He has one foot on the back of the scorpion.

Ophiuchus later become known as the Serpent Charmer or Serpent Holder who could cure snake bites and even bring people back from the dead. From this he became known in some circles as a healer who was worshiped with snakes that represented prudence, renovation, wisdom and the ability to discover healing herbs.

Later he was generally identified with Asclepios or Aesculapius, a healer who was educated by his father Apollo or by the centaur Chiron. He was the first physician, being the surgeon of the ship Argo. He became so skilled that he could bring the dead back to life. Hyppolytus was drawn apart by four horses. Neptune requested that the pieces be glued back together. He was thus brought back to life. Because of this ability Aesculapius aroused the fear of Pluto who felt his kingdom would be threatened. Pluto persuades Jove to hit Aesculapius with a thunderbolt and  place him in the heavens.

Ophiuchus became known as Serpens or Serpentarius. To some he was considered the god of Invocation. The stars in Ophiuchus were considered poisonous and dangerous to mankind. It has also been given an association to Satan and having an evil influence. Ophiuchus became known for his Hand of Evil, the Man of Death, the Head of Evil, Serpent Bitten, and the Magician.

In Christian times the figure became changed to St. Paul with the Maltese Viper, or to Moses who lifted the serpent in the wilderness. He was also associated to Saint Benedict in the midst of thorns, who became the founder of the Benedictine monks and carried on the teaching of his times in the sixth century.

Out of the twenty five days from November 21 to December 16 when the Sun travels from the end of the constellation of the Scales to the beginning of the constellation of The Archer, it spends 9 days in Scorpio and 16 days in Ophiuchus.

This was a quote from Mr. Royal Hill, mentioned in Richard Hinckley Allen’s book Star Names and Their Meanings, first published in 1899 and republished in 1963.

This is the foundation of the recent article about the changing Zodiac. To put this in proper perspective, one needs to understand that there are three zodiacs in general use today. This article refers to the zodiac of constellations in which each constellation has a different or unique size. In the context of this zodiac, the argument of including Ophiuchus is an old discussion but possibly a valid one.

While the Scorpion actually occupies a larger span of the sky than that which the Sun exactly travels through, it can be considered to occupy the larger area between the Scales and the Archer. Ophiuchus stands on the back of the Scorpion and piggybacks in the same section of the sky. While the sun does travel through a section of Ophiuchus while traversing the Scorpion, the planets and the moon, can be lower in the sky and can spend a much greater period in the Scorpion. They can even bypass Ophiuchus completely. When following the Sun’s path on the ecliptic the Sun simply crosses one heel and the other foot of Ophiuchus. Since he is standing on the Scorpion it could be said that he was stung by the Scorpion and did not make it into the zodiac.

In the realm of the constellations and their associations this is a most insightful debate, filled with implications. However the astrological relevance of these implications is much more limited than has been recently suggested. Ophiuchus has a distinct presence in the pantheon of stellar entities and worthy of contemplation and insight, however it in no way alters the traditional foundations of astrology! The domain and influence of Ophiuchus is in the constellations and stellar associations. It has its play in the Zodiac of Constellations.

The Zodiac of Constellations is one zodiac and probably the one that is least used in the astrology of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

The Sidereal Zodiac, which is used primarily in India but also has a fairly large following in the west, does not refer to the exact positions of each constellation. In the Sidereal Zodiac the zodiac band of the heavens is divided into twelve thirty-degree divisions. This is a mathematical system that allocates thirty degrees of the zodiac to each constellation. It is a close proximity to each constellation and allows for an easy remembering of star positions. The constellations themselves are different sizes, but the Sidereal Zodiac Signs are each thirty degrees, so there are overlaps in some places and empty portions in other places. Sidereal Astrology uses these twelve equal divisions and the positions of individual stars. It allocates a thirty degree section to Scorpio. The existence of Ophiuchus could be considered as an add on to the basic Scorpio if one chose to, but it would not take away from the twelve sidereal zodiac sectors, and a new horoscope would not be necessary at all.

The Tropical Zodiac, which is more popular in the west, is based on the seasons of the year and the orbit of the earth around the Sun, or Sun through the signs of the zodiac. Aries marks the first month of Spring, when the Sun is overhead at the equator and heading north. The days are longer than the nights and are increasing. At the summer solstice, when the Sun is overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, the sign of Cancer begins. Cancer is the first sign in summer when the days are longer than the nights but the nights are beginning to get longer. Libra marks the beginning of Autumn when the Sun is overhead at the equator but heading south. In Libra the nights are longer than the days and they are getting longer. At the winter solstice when the sun is overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, the sign of Capricorn begins. Capricorn is the first sign in the winter, when Nights are longer than the days, but the days are beginning to increase again, bringing with it the promise of Spring to come.

This represents what is known as the Tropical Zodiac. This will not change even if there were a thousands new constellations in the sky.

The confusion comes from the fact that the same names are given to the topical zodiac signs, the sidereal zodiac signs and the constellations. To simplify this matter one could refer to the zodiac constellations by the image implied. The Ram, Bull, Twins, Crab, Lion, Virgin, Scales, Scorpion, Archer, Goat, Water bearer and Fish. This would remove some of the primary confusion. Then one is left with distinguishing the sidereal or tropical signs.  If one remembers that these are all different scales or measurements, it will be easier to gain a good inclusive perspective. Perhaps this could be compared to a slide rule, or a ruler with metric measurements of millimeters and centimeters on one side, and imperial measurements of inches and feet on the other.

To summarize, there is no need to change your sign of the zodiac to accommodate Ophiuchus. You are the sign you are. This has not changed. Really, nothing has changed. Just an old debate brought to the surface again.